How is Building a Game World like World Building for Writing?
When I was introduced to RPG (Role Playing Gaming), it was 1977, and the concept was relatively new. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson had invented Dungeons and Dragons a few years before (1974) and a friend of mine who was a dedicated gamer introduced me and some other friends to a person in a nearby town who was a DM, a Dungeon Master, with a campaign in which to play. We decided after a couple of sessions we enjoyed the game, but not Tom, the DM. My friends decided I needed to undertake the task of becoming a Dungeon Master and starting my own campaign so we could play without Tom. And so it began. Why I was chosen, I am not sure. Maybe I just didn’t step back fast enough. At the time, I didn’t have a clue what I was agreeing to undertake. I had no idea of the hours and hours of work I was committing myself to.
I do not know how other Dungeon Masters plan their campaigns, but in looking back, I realize the way I built my world for my game is very much the same thing I do now, planning the world for a series of novels.
When I began playing D&D, there were only seven races open to Player Characters (PCs) in the game rules. Therefore, the Who of the world was already established. Those races were: Humans, Haflings, Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, Half-Elves, and Half-Orcs. I set out to build my world of Ardkyn with these races in mind.
I should point out, this was not set in stone according to Gary Gygax. Mr. Gygax said early on that his ‘rules’ were simply guidelines and he encouraged every DM to make their game as they wanted it, not as he set it forth. Tools, not Rules as it were, although I saw very few people I came across in the gaming world ever took it that way. Most people at the various gaming ‘cons’ I attended took the TSR rules as cannon.
To begin, I decided I needed to make a map of the area needed to base our role playing within. I began by creating Camartain, a City-State in the land of Ardkyn. A Duke ruled it and it had all the amenities I could think of for a city amid a world of magic and might. After I connected four large sheets of graph paper, I drew a map of my city. I divided my city into four quarters. I named all the streets and placed temples, guilds, merchants, and a mid-city open-air bazaar. I added a tavern named ‘The Choked Basilisk’ and it was from there that many of the quests set forth from. Although I named the lands Ardkyn, it was a long time before I created much more than a small part of this land. I didn’t need more at the beginning.
When I set out to write my epic fantasy novel, the first thing I did was draw a map, placing my starting point, a castle stronghold, and building the surrounding lands. I knew from my notes there was going to be traveling and I wanted to be sure I could keep journeys consistent. As with my game world, I did not fill in every detail. I placed all the big things like seas and mountain ranges. I put in forests and rivers and because I had some notes with some idea of the political structure, I was able to put in some cities and villages but I only drew things in detail which already existed in my notes. I left room for growth, for additions, and for surprises.
As my story filled out, so did my map, just like in my D&D campaign. As I created new quests in my campaign, I added to the lands that surrounded Camartain. To do this, I took nine sheets of my large graph paper and connected them, put my city somewhere in the center and added to the features I had created for my city map. Since Camartain was on an island in a lake with a large river running in and out, I created a source in nearby mountains and connected it to the sea. As my players ventured further from Camartain, I introduced new features to accommodate their quests.
In my novel, I started with more features than I had with my D&D campaign, but only because I had already mind-mapped that I needed more. As I wrote more of my first draft, I added more features to my map, just as I had with the map of my Dungeons and Dragons’ world setting.
Casey Cooper is the son of two teachers, the grandson of a university professor on one side, and a jazz drummer on the other. Somehow, he escaped teaching, but not music. After retiring from his day job, just in time for COVID, he devoted his first year of ‘freedom’ to self-recording a musical concept album. In his second year, he turned to writing.
An avid reader, he averages a book a week. The usual fare is Fantasy or Sci-Fi. Sometimes Action/Adventure. He has been seen reading all kinds of things, from fairytales to super-string theory.
He holds guest citizenship in The Forgotten Realms, Oz, Pellucidar, and on the Discworld. He lives alone with his two trusty cats. Liv, a lavender tortoiseshell, and Riley, an orange tiger. You can follow him on Facebook.